Live Music + Gig Reviews

Fever Ray @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

16 July 2009

Karin Dreijer Andersson’s natural affinity with the visual aspects of a live event are well documented from her performances as half of The Knife, with her brother Olof. The Knife’s shows brought the Swedish siblings’ music to life with screens and projections, and while Karin’s solo project Fever Ray creeps into pagan worlds replete with costumes and masks, technological elements remain at its core.

That technology is twofold, manifested in Karin’s electronic music and, visually, by a malevolent green laser that swings up and imposes an other-worldly false ceiling on the venerable old theatre in which her cowering brethren have assembled.

Frilly lounge lamps vie with the smoke produced from incense to twist and play with the shapes of the band and their instruments, half lit, possibly imagined. In the middle, amongst the swirls of smoke and variable light levels, an upright chrysalis resembling a huge, brooding owl fades in and out of view as the ghoulish bass synth opening notes of If I Had A Heart juxtapose with naturalistic tree rustlings and pitch the mood somewhere between eerie and ritualistic.

The laser doesn’t blink or change position, remaining in place into the set until the vocoder-laden Concrete Walls, in whichKarin runs a vocal gamut between druid priestess and alien invader, creating a new sonic art form as she gets in touch withher masculine side. She emerges from the chysalis enough to reveal her long blonde locks for Keep The Streets Empty For Meand pairs the visual change with a spell of naturalistic vocals. In this way she is transformed from alien borg to vulnerable girl lost in anelectro-pagan world of pre-dawn wonder.

Seven’s lyrics about dishwasher tablets and riding bikes are as out of place in this setting as they are on record, and the optimistic music makes a curiously jarring counterpoint to the rest of the carefully contrived, soul-twisted mood.

But with just a single album to Fever Ray’s name so far, she needs to add tracks rather than subtract any. Thus she makes Nick Cave‘s suitably spooky Stranger Than Kindness into something somehow more sinister than the source material while the chrysalis takes on different costume forms, shifting position unseen, seeming to change shape while Karin retreats to a keyboard at the back of the stage.

Later, a tropical beat played out on percussion interweaves with the predominantly electronic sounds, creating a mood of ritual where witches might well make a brew for Now’s The Only Time I Know. When I Grow Up flows into the evening’s second cover, Vashti Bunyan‘s suitably earthy Here Before, and the stately album closer Coconut.

And then, all too soon, this deliciously timeless, past-future experience is over. Fever Ray has briefly given usmusic to commune with the dead to, then returned to whichever dimension from which she emerged.

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More on Fever Ray
Fever Ray – Radical Romantics
Fever Ray @ Troxy, London
Fever Ray – Plunge
Fever Ray @ Brixton Academy, London
Fever Ray: “It is interesting what we find scary and what we find is beautiful. It’s very close, sometimes” – Interview